FARGO – David Boelke, a Fargo police officer whose supervisor is recommending that the chief fire him, is accused of failing to file proper police reports for accidents or investigations and sometimes for failing to go to the scene of police calls, according to legal documents.
During an internal affairs investigation into the alleged failures, Boelke is accused of not being honest in answering some of the allegations against him – a charge Boelke denies, contending he spoke in error with no intent to deceive, according to the documents, which were provided to The Forum by Boelke’s attorney, Mark Friese, on Friday, Aug. 4.
Boelke, a 15-year department veteran and four-time life-saving award recipient, is on paid administrative leave pending a decision about his discipline by Chief David Todd. Boelke’s attorney calls the allegations of deception “slanderous and false” and said Boelke was subject to “ambush interviews.”
The investigation stemmed from Boelke’s failure to show up for a court hearing on a day off in 2017, a lapse he self-reported. This triggered a review that mushroomed into an internal investigation that looked into 280 or 290 calls for service over the span of a year.
The internal investigation determined that in 36 calls for service reports were not properly completed.
“During the course of the investigation of Officer Boelke’s performance on those calls for service multiple individuals involved with those calls for service described Officer Boelke as having a poor attitude, an unwillingness to investigate, an unwillingness to take a report, a lack of empathy, or as being unfriendly,” Lt. William Ahlfeldt wrote June 1 in a memo to Deputy Chief Ross Renner.
Ahlfeldt recommended a letter of reprimand for the missed court appearance and a 15-day suspension, with a performance improvement contract for what he concluded were “violations of policy and work performance issues.”
Renner rejected those recommendations and days later, on June 6, recommended Boelke’s dismissal, citing what he said were failures of the officer’s performance and conduct. Todd is reviewing the recommendations, and has said he wants to make a decision soon.
Renner accused Boelke of not being honest to internal investigators in responding to allegations that he did not perform as required. Boelke is accused of giving false or misleading statements or omitting important information.
Three citizens told an internal investigator, Sgt. Jared Crane, that Boelke never showed up on the scene to speak with them, Renner wrote in his memo to Todd.
“Officer Boelke indicated he did show up which is contrary to what Sgt. Crane was told by these individuals,” Renner wrote.
“Based on these findings it is my opinion that Officer Boelke broke the trust between the community and the police department by purposefully making decisions that he knew would result in accidents/crimes going unreported,” Renner wrote in a memo to Todd.
“By doing this Officer Boelke failed to provide a service that is expected by the public and did not follow the accepted method that would allow review of these crimes for further follow-up investigation.”
Boelke told investigators that he went to the scene later, but investigators concluded that assertion was not supported by GPS navigation data on three calls for service.
Friese, Boelke’s attorney and himself a former police officer, said Boelke never lied, and said the GPS system the police department uses is badly flawed, with complaints of inaccuracy from numerous law enforcement agencies.
“During the repeated and repetitious interviews, Dave repeatedly and consistently recounted his recollection of the underlying incidents,” Friese wrote in Boelke’s defense. “In several instances, Dave recalled and acknowledged that he did not respond to the scene, or did not speak in person to the complainant.”
In trying to refute the allegations that he lied, Boelke submitted to a polygraph examination, commonly known as a lie-detector test, administered by Roland Rust, a former longtime Fargo police officer and investigator.
In that examination, Rust found no effort to deceive by Boelke. “Dave Boelke did not lie, and the polygraph examination results prove it,” Friese wrote.
Friese also attacked the qualifications and credibility of an expert the police hired to review the polygraph, and presented written findings from another expert he described as “world renowned” who agreed with Rust’s conclusion of non-deception.
The GPS system used by Fargo police, New World Computer Assisted Dispatch, has serious flaws and is the subject of multiple “error and irregularity” reports, including regular system outages, displays of squad cars as stationary when not, and providing inaccurate location data, Friese wrote.
Boelke served on the “build team” for implementing the system and tried to explain its flaws to an internal investigator, but he “refused to listen or inquire,” Friese wrote.
But Sgt. Jared Crane, who conducted the internal investigation, presented findings that called into question the information Friese submitted challenging the reliability of the GPS system in the squad cars. Crane released the internal investigation report to The Forum on Friday.
The city computer technician who troubleshoots the GPS system, used by both police and firefighters, presented printouts for the GPS unit in Boelke’s squad car for the three dates in question indicating he had been logged in “with no connectivity issues or interruptions.”
Crane tested Boelke’s squad car on two occasions and found the GPS system “tracked my activities without error during the time I was logged” into the system.
“I experienced zero malfunctions or problems with the GPS system during the time I was operating squad 57,” Boelke’s patrol car, Crane wrote in his report.
Crane also interviewed an official at the Red River Regional Dispatch Center who estimated the GPS system, also used by police in West Fargo and Dilworth, is 75 percent to 80 percent accurate, but said he doesn’t track reliability statistics.
Occasionally squad cars “disappear” from dispatchers’ monitors, but that is usually because the officer failed to sign in correctly. “For Fargo, it’s usually pretty accurate,” Corey Olson of the dispatch center told Crane, according to Crane’s report.
In each of the three calls for which Boelke was accused of not showing up at the scene, the complainants all told Crane that an officer never showed up, but Boelke called later. In Crane’s first interview with Boelke, he said he showed up for all three calls, Crane wrote in his report.
In reviewing the calls for which Boelke failed to file a report, Crane cited a case in which a mother reported suspected sexual abuse of a 9-year-old child. Crane asked Boelke how he could have failed to take a report or referred the child to the Red River Children’s Advocacy Center for investigation.
“I guess I didn’t even think of that,” Boelke responded, according to Crane’s report. Boelke went on to explain that the case involved a custody dispute in which one parent didn’t want the child left with a teenaged babysitter.
‘Fanciful and disputed’
If the “fanciful and disputed” conclusion that Boelke lied is accepted, it would set an “unprecedented standard,” Friese wrote. “It would necessitate the termination of multiple officers,” by “arbitrarily” choosing one account over another “and those believing the alternate account will be deemed liars.”
Todd declined Friday to comment on Friese’s responses, saying he will defer comment for now to the internal investigation report.
“We’re going to let the report speak for itself,” Todd said. “I feel it’s very thorough. We’re hoping to bring this to resolution very soon.”
Grant Benjamin, president of the North Dakota Fraternal Order of Police, which represents police officers, issued a statement commending Boelke, a past president of the order’s local lodge.
“Past-President Boelke is a man of exceptional character, trustworthiness, and honesty,” Benjamin said, adding that he was optimistic “the process will be fair and the result will confirm David’s integrity and truthfulness.”
An online petition in support of Boelke’s “character and his continued employment with the Fargo Police Department” had received 280 signatures as of Friday evening.